New year message: Time to trial universal basic income in Islington

People walk past Christmas lights outside a closed shop on Oxford Street, London.

People walk past Christmas lights outside a closed shop on Oxford Street, London. Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelled Christmas for almost 18 million people across London and eastern and south-east England following warnings from scientists of the rapid spread of the new variant of coronavirus - Credit: PA Wire/PA ImagesPA

Being placed in tier 4 is a stark reminder that the Covid pandemic is still with us and, despite the arrival of vaccines, we are not through the worst of it yet.

Islington has been hugely affected, and sadly many local households have either suffered illness or loss or know friends and neighbours who have.

And beyond the direct health impacts, the necessary safety measures have influenced how we work, learn, shop, exercise, socialise and holiday, our mental health, even how we interact with our families.

The pandemic has reminded us just what ‘essential services’ mean to us all.

How much we all depend not only on everyone in the NHS, but on the people who care for our children and grandparents, on our teachers, the workers who grow our food, deliver it, stack it on our shop shelves, and who sweep our streets and take away our bins.

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It has also reminded us of the strength of community, the volunteers who have come together to help protect lonely residents and the local businesses who have devised new ways of working to keep our lives running safely.

It’s unlikely we’ll ever go back to where we were last March and, despite the government’s welcome support initiatives, many people are worried they might be made redundant, worried for their loved ones and worried about paying the bills when they are receiving a fraction of their normal wage and struggling to make ends meet.

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Last week I proposed a motion to the council calling for a trial of a universal basic income (UBI) here in Islington.

It was constructively amended by Labour and I was proud to see Islington council become the first London borough to commit to the idea.

UBI is a non means tested payment for everyone which would give more Islington residents the security of an economic floor, below which they cannot fall.

Not a safety net with holes, but a solid foundation upon which each and every person can stand and build from.

There are understandably questions that people ask about how a universal basic income would work in practice.

That’s why a trial is so important.

These times demand leadership and I cannot think of a better time or place to run a trial of a basic income than here and now in this borough.

  • Caroline Russell (Green Party) is an Islington councillor and a London Assembly member.

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